Black Butte Ranch: A new look for Glaze Meadow

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon |

Once seen as Black Butte’s ‘other’ course, Glaze Meadow is back, and better

BLACK BUTTE RANCH — As he tramped around the Glaze Meadow Golf Course a couple of years ago, John Fought realized how much he wanted the job of redesigning the 30-year-old course at the popular resort 100 miles east of Eugene.

It wasn’t simply because his younger brother, Jeff, is the director of golf at Black Butte Ranch, or because Fought himself had grown up an Oregonian, winning a U.S. Amateur championship in 1977 and winning twice on the PGA Tour before embarking upon a prolific career as a golf course architect.

“I knew this could be 300 percent better,” John Fought said. “I love projects like that, where you can get in there and you know you can really make a difference. I mean a big difference, like night and day.”

When the full 18-hole course, with its views of Mount Washington and Black Butte, reopens on June 30 after a closure of almost two years and an investment of $3.75 million that includes a new clubhouse and improved practice area, some of the differences will be obvious to golfers who have played the course over the years, especially over the first five holes, where the changes are fairly dramatic.

Other changes will be more subtle, though no less significant.

“Everything is new,” Fought said. “We’ve re-grassed all the fairways. All new tees, all new bunkers, all new greens, all new irrigation and drainage.”

And the thing of it is, the project got going because the sprinkler system was on its last legs.

Problems, and a vision

About seven years ago, Black Butte Ranch took a master-plan look at both its courses — Big Meadow, designed by Robert Muir Graves, which had opened in 1970, and Glaze Meadow, designed by prominent Oregon golf figure Gene “Bunny” Mason, the resort’s former director of golf, which opened as an 18-hole course in 1982.

Improvements were made at Big Meadow four years ago. Meanwhile, the Glaze Meadow irrigation system, dating to the start of construction in 1978, needed to be replaced, and as resort managers considered that problem, they had the vision to wrestle with another one.

Simply put, golfers considered Glaze Meadow an inferior course to Big Meadow, and they were demonstrating that by focusing their play at Big Meadow, or at some of the new courses in the Bend area, such as Brasada Canyons Golf Course and Tetherow Golf Club.

Their concerns were not invalid. The opening hole at Glaze Meadow, a dogleg par-5 with an outcropping of rock and Ponderosa pines in the middle of the fairway, was different, if not downright odd — and miscast as a starting hole. Other sharp doglegs discouraged longer hitters.

Furthermore, the Ponderosa pines and aspens encroaching on the fairways and greens were vexing both to golfers, who didn’t have to hit too far astray to find themselves in the woods, and to greenskeepers, who faced the daunting task of keeping the grass of the fairways and greens healthy in the shade of the tall trees.

Play at Glaze Meadow had dropped to 13,000 annual rounds the year before the remodeling project began from 20,000 in 2005, Jeff Fought said.

“We were in a declining rounds environment, all due to play on Glaze Meadow,” said Scott Huntsman, president and chief executive officer of Black Butte Ranch.

“Even with increased competition in the area and even through the recession, rounds had grown at Big Meadow. But we were losing rounds pretty steadily (at Glaze Meadow) because it wasn’t a comparable playing experience to what you could see at the Brasadas or Tetherows or even Big Meadow. We were finding people coming in, playing Big Meadow once or twice, and then opting to go someplace else as opposed to playing Glaze.”

Six architects were interviewed for the redesign job; so compelling was John Fought’s vision for the course that after the project was described to homeowners, in meetings at the resort and in Portland and Eugene, it was approved with the votes of more than 80 percent of the owners of the ranch’s 1,251 homesites, Huntsman said.

Financed through resort income and a loan, the project is a bold investment in a difficult time for golf courses nationally — although the recession also contributed to some favorable prices on, for example, irrigation supplies.

“This is the best bang for the buck I think I’ve ever done,” said John Fought, whose John Fought Design is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Golden Age

Over a career in which he has designed such courses as Pumpkin Ridge (with Bob Cupp) and The Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club in Oregon, Fought, 58, had become increasingly entranced by the “classic” style of “Golden Age” golf courses built by architects Donald Ross, in the United States, and Harry Colt, in Europe and elsewhere in the world, during the 1920s and 1930s.

In Fought’s view, these were courses designed by “golf guys” rather than “landscape architects.” In 2004, Fought earned acclaim for restoring an original 1927 Ross design at Pine Needles Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., and he determined to bring that style to Glaze Meadow.

That meant a certain style of raised greens, generally approachable by run-up shots, rectangular tee boxes and grass-faced bunkers that harkened to the days when those elements were shaped by horse and plow. In the Glaze Meadow renovation, the 1920s motif was extended to the clubhouse remodeling, and to a new 16,000-square-foot putting green that will be surrounded by white deck chairs.

For the most part, Fought stuck with the basic footprint of Glaze Meadow that Mason had routed, with the exceptions being the opening three holes. The first hole, that quirky par-5, was converted to a straightforward downhill par-4; behind the green, Fought removed a stand of trees, opening the view toward meadowlands and a natural lake and Black Butte.

“It’s not the best hole on the course,” Fought said, but certainly it’s a major improvement, both alone and in concert with improvements on the ensuing holes. No. 2 was lengthened to a par-5 — in all, Fought added 500 yards to the course, to 7,007 yards from the tips — and the tee boxes for the third hole were moved closer to the lake, with a straight line toward the green on a relatively short par-4.

Water also comes into play on the par-4 fourth hole, and the fifth, a par-3 in which the green has been elevated, trees removed and water is in play on both sides and behind a visually compelling hole.

In rebuilding the greens, Fought made them larger, to an average size of 6,250 square feet from 4,000. When they get up to speed, Fought believes the greens will be challenging and thought-provoking, without the multiple tiers and huge contours that characterize other modern courses.

“People judge golf courses by how cool the greens are,” he said. “I wanted to have these subtle contours.”

Timberrrr!

Fought had “thousands” of trees — between 3,000 and 4,000 — removed from the course, widening the fairways and creating a buffer of rough between the fairways and the trees. (The trees were logged for timber, the stumps and roots pulled up, and the holes filled.) Clearly, that aspect of the project was a sensitive issue at Black Butte Ranch.

‘Everybody thinks I’m a tree killer and I love to take out trees,” Fought said. “They’re right on the one hand, because I like to grow grass, and you can’t grow grass when you have trees that are that big.”

From the time that Mason had designed the course, the trees had narrowed some fairways considerably, even while newer courses were going to wider fairways to accommodate golf balls that fly farther. In retrospect, Fought seems proudest of his work on No. 16, a dogleg par-4 where the fairway was doubled in width through tree removal. That wouldn’t be evident to new or even returning golfers because it remains a tree-lined fairway, as is virtually every fairway on the course.

In essence, Fought saw the forest behind the trees.

“I think now it’s a nice hole, and before it was Mickey Mouse …” he said. “Nobody likes playing out of the trees all day long. It was a function of us getting the scale of trees back to where they should be.

“When we first started taking them out, I think some of the homeowners were ‘Oh my gosh, what were you thinking?’ Then they walked the holes and said this could be a lot more fun to play.

“It’s a big change, but the good news is that there are good trees behind the ones we took out.”

The test of time

From the tips, the par-72 Glaze Meadow has a U.S. Golf Association rating of 72.7, and a slope of 133. The course plays to 6,506 yards from the blue tees (70.5, 128) and 5,931 from the whites (68.3, 120). Summer greens fees range from $55 to $75 through September.

Will golfers, who have been able to play the front nine holes since Memorial Day, embrace the rebuilt Glaze Meadow? Jeff Fought said the resort hopes for a return to the 20,000 rounds annually that Glaze Meadow saw in 2005, and he believes the course could also host an Oregon Open, for example, because of its new length, and the quality of the greens.

“We really feel this will give us an opportunity to turn that around and reposition Black Butte where it had been for so many years as a quality destination for golfers in the region,” Huntsman said.

Said John Fought, harkening to the owner concerns about tree removal: “I’m always very unpopular at the beginning of projects. I’m OK with that because I know what it’s going to be like at the end. I knew it could be so much better, and that was the mission, and I knew at the end they were going to be happy, and I think they are.

“Time will tell.”

Comments are closed.